One of my project this summer was to find collaboration tools for my office to use. We had been Groove for the past couple of years, but it had two things going against it. First, its expensive. Enough said on that point. Second, when Microsoft took over the product, they clipped it capabilities because they infringe on a couple of other Microsoft products. The main thing missing now is a collection of tools that are useful for project management, which is exactly what we were using it for.
The important features for what we would be using it for are:
- web interface
- capable of tracking both tasks and bugs
- group level management
- executive level overview
- file storage
I looked at literally dozens of projects. We did have a budget, but frankly there are so many free (open source) options that I didn’t look very hard at the licensed software packages.
My very first look was at some of the online tools like Voo2Do, RememberTheMilk and Backpack. These are all great for individuals. In fact, if you just need something to organize your own projects, large or small, they’re hard to beat. The first two are free, and they’re pretty easy to use. I’ve used Voo2Do for more than a year to keep track of school & work tasks, and have been very pleased with it. Since we had to share projects and pass them between team members, none of these would work well for us.
In my search I found redMine pretty quickly, and was instantly intrigued by it so I decided to try it within a couple of minutes of finding it. I didn’t have any experience at all with Ruby on Rails applications, so it took me a couple of days to get it installed and working properly.
Once I did, WOW. The tool’s interface is clean and easy to understand. It didn’t take me long to create a couple of projects, add some users and start assigning tasks. I created logins for everyone on my team and we began using it almost immediately. It was intuitive enough to understand that we dropped our use of Bugzilla.
The real beauty of redMine is that it is customizable. Since we were using it both for project management and bug tracking I created a couple of new roles. As with any new tool, there was a bit of a learning curve in customizing it for our needs, but it wasn’t too difficult.
We’ve now been using it for six weeks. We have a total of 23 users in three different departments spread across three countries working within 16 projects. There were no significant user issues, everyone picked it up pretty quickly. Our workflow has improved because we have one tool to manage all of the “data” associated with our tasks and projects.
One major piece missing is group level administration. When creating a new project that everyone in our sales department will need to participate in, we have to add each individual and assign their role. redMine offers enough other features that I found it easy to overlook this, but it definitely would be nice.
This product has ended up being a real benefit to our company. We have since dropped our Groove licenses, stopped using Bugzilla and doing a better job of team wide interaction of all of our projects. I’d call that a success. And, since its open source we’ve added some links and features that weren’t already present.
If you’re a project manager, or need to keep track of several tasks within varying projects, I recommend trying it out. The support community is pretty robust. I had several questions through the installation process, and I was never left hanging. You’ll need a server to install it on, but otherwise its a free product.